Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Do You Need A Happiness Project?

At the airport this past weekend, I found a terrific little paperback that had lots of wisdom tucked inside it. It was Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun (Harper Collins, 2009). It's written by Rubin, a former attorney, and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She realized she'd rather be a writer. I'm glad she did.

Rubin does a thorough and intelligent review of the psychological research on happiness as well as the thoughts of philosophers and writers on this topic. Her engaging style is fun and easy to follow. She takes us inside her life, relationships with her husband, children, parents and friends as she sets a course to make herself an even happier person in a year. She shares with the reader her path to create happiness resolutions, and keep herself accountable for doing so with a chart--gold stars and all.

Each month, Rubin takes on a part of building a bigger, bolder, healthier, more organized, aware, and connected life. A month at a time she tackles life tasks like:

Boosting Energy

Simplifying/Decluttering (cute insights on varieties of clutter here)

Exercising Differently

Making Your Relationship a Priority

Showing Proof of Love

Giving Up Nagging

Launching a New Career Venture

Asking for Help

Working Smarter

Lightening Up as a Parent

Acknowledging Other People's Feelings

More Leisure

More Silliness

Connecting More with Friends

Giving Up Gossip

Increasing Generosity to Others

Cutting People (And Your Partner) Some Slack

Making 3 New Friends

Splurging a Little

Mastering a New Technology

Not Expecting Praise or Appreciation

Giving Something Up

Cultivating Gratefulness

Reading Memoirs of Catastrophes

Studying a Spiritual Master

Making Others Happy

Pursuing a Passion

Being Present

Being Mindful

Trying Something New

Finding a Personal Refuge

Laughing and Singing More

Using Good Manners

Giving Good Reviews about Others

What were her results? It wasn't quantifiable, but Rubin's sense was that the happiness project worked nicely. She shares her progress and also weaves in the insights of her blog readers, who also detailed shifts in their own perceptions and feelings as they created their own personal happiness projects. They speak to striving for happiness despite different circumstances than Rubin's.

I liked that Rubin completely understands the individual nature of happiness, and invites readers to tailor their happiness project accordingly. She's honest about things that don't work for her (gratefulness journal), things that seem to border on annoying or offending others (offers to declutter friends' homes), and her concerns that focusing on happiness could be too self-focused if you aren't careful to share it.

We each have happiness set points. The active pursuit of happiness and growing our happiness frontiers appears to move us further along our range of happiness. It takes energy to build a happy life, rather than passively complain. Happiness is also fairly contagious, and Rubin describes how her pursuit of happiness trickles out increases in the happiness quotient of her husband and children.

The Happiness Project is a fun read, soulful and real, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm tempted to hunt down one of her happiness communities online to join in the discussion. Building communities of people who are firmly committed to building happiness and sharing it with others is a magnetic concept. Perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson was right, (as quoted by Rubin) that there is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.

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